1. Technology

Inkscape Review

Review of the Free Vector Graphics Editor Inkscape

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating
User Rating 2 Star Rating (3 Reviews)


Inkscape interface

Inkscape is an accomplished free vector-based editor.

© Ian Pullen

Inkscape is the open source community's alternative to Adobe Illustrator, the accepted industry standard tool for the production of vector-based graphics. It is a credible alternative for anyone whose budget can't stretch to Illustrator, with some caveats, including the fact that as powerful as Inkscape is, it doesn't match the full range of features of Illustrator.

Despite that, it has developed into an application that perhaps should now be taken seriously as a professional tool, though its lack of PMS color support may still be a stumbling block for some users.

The User Interface


  • Clearly presented tools and options
  • Collapsible side palettes


  • Collapsing of side palettes a little buggy
  • Floating Tools palette can't be reconfigured.

Inkscape has a fresh user interface that presents the various tools and features in a very accessible way. I'm being a little persnickety in the few faults that I can find.

The main Tools palette is aligned down the left hand side in way that uses the minimum of space so that the working area isn't unnecessarily compromised, though there is the option to drag the palette loose and have it float above the working area if that is your preference. Unfortunately, if used in that mode, the configuration of the palette can't be changed and the only display option is with all the tools displayed in a single column.

Above the working area, several toolbars can be shown or hidden. Personally, I hide the Snap Controls Bar, preferring to use that space for the Commands Bar and Tool Controls Bar. The Tool Controls Bar changes the options that it displays depending on the tool that is currently active, allowing the way the active tool operates to be changed quickly and easily.

Other palettes, such Layers and Fill and Stroke can be displayed in collapsible format to the right hand side of the working area. When collapsed individually, using the Iconify button, a tab appears to the right of the screen, which can be clicked to reopen that palette again. There isn't an option to collapse all the palettes with one click, but pressing F12 activates the Show/Hide Dialogs command which does hide all the open palettes simultaneously. This command is different to Iconify as it doesn't leave tabs that can be clicked to reopen a palette and F12 must be pressed again to show the palettes. In practice, I found that on more than one occasion, when pressing F12 to show all palettes, it failed to reopen all of the palettes that were hidden and this buggy behavior does undermine the usefulness of this feature a little.

Drawing With Inkscape


  • Good selection of tools for drawing and editing graphic objects
  • Tweak Objects tool could free creative block


  • No Gradient Mesh type tool
  • 3D Boxes tool looks a little gimmicky

Inkscape is very well equipped in terms of tools for drawing, from producing simple logo forms to more complex graphics. You've only got to look at Inkscape's website to see some of the stunning results that some more advanced users can achieve with this application. Some Illustrator users will bemoan the lack of a comparable tool to the Gradient Mesh, but even without that, Inkscape is capable of some truly impressive results.

The Gradient tool is very intuitive to use and easy to adjust. By combining multiple objects with different gradient blends, and using other features such as layer transparency and blur, will allow users to get very creative.

The Bezier Curves tool is a powerful general purpose tool that allows users to draw just about any shape that is desired. At first I couldn't work out how to make nodes angled rather than continuing an existing curve, but soon discovered pressing Return after placing a node and then clicking on that node allowed me to continue drawing the path without the new section being influenced by the preceding curved section. Combined with the various tools for combining paths, Inkscape can produce just about any path conceivable. Paths can also be used to Clip other objects, to effectively frame them and hide any parts that are outside of the frame.

Another tool worthy of mention is the Tweak Objects tool. This has a number of options and the results of it can be a little unpredictable, but I quite like this as a way to stir inspiration when creative block has set in. You can apply the tool to different objects, including text that has been converted to a path, and see if some of the random results can set you off in a new design direction.

One question mark that I have over the complement of drawing tools is the 3D Boxes tool. Personally I'm not convinced of the usefulness and effectiveness of this, but I can appreciate that some users may value the ability to produce three dimensional effects so quickly and easily.

Getting Creative


  • Wide range of filters available
  • Extensions to add new functionality


  • Effectiveness of some filters can be a little hit and miss
  • Extensions cannot be installed within Inkscape's interface

Inkscape offers its users the power to take their designs to more creative levels using a range of Filters and Extensions. These can open up all sorts of creative possibilities to develop more unusual and exciting results. In fact, there are so many filters available by default, you could waste quite some time going through them to find the right kind of result for a specific piece of work. Some of the results can be a little hit and miss. I'd like an easy way to manage which filters are displayed in the menu, though I'm sure with a little research I'd find a way to remove filters that I don't want.

The Extensions menu comes with some extensions loaded by default and the system offers Inkscape users the ability to further customize their own version of the application. The extensions that are available serve a range of different purposes and add even more power to a comprehensive application, but these need to be manually installed into the file system rather than through Inkscape's user interface.

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